Catholic Activity: Winning and Losing
Here are ways that parents can teach their children that winning isn't everything.
When he is playing games to win or being sullen when he loses, is the time to help a child see the right end of play. "Be a good sport," we call it. But how can you be a good sport if you don't know what it means? Competition is not so healthy as we like to think. It places far too much value on winning and exhibitionism, and underrates the degrees and varieties of gifts, the simple joy of participation. Worst of all, it is such an accepted measure for all forms of activity that no amount of philosophizing will comfort great numbers of people who have discovered they are only second bests.
We can help our children to enjoy play, even when it must take the form of competitive play, and to be "good sports," if we try in the beginning to take the emphasis off competition and put in its place an awareness that success in anything for them is doing as well as one is able to do. It has nothing to do with whether God has equipped someone else to do it better. When a child has reached the limit of his ability, it is time to rest, and if such happens to be the case, give honest praise for the talents of the winner. If prayer is play, too, then basketball in the back yard can be a prayer but not if it's spoiled by resentment. Nor can play be any kind of prayer if it isn't honest. Cheating doesn't fool anyone, least of all God, and it belongs in the same category of sins as stealing and lying.
We must also help them to be honest about disappointment. "I don't care" isn't honest when one does care. "I did the best I could, but I wish I could have won," is normal and honest; and until children learn to find their joy in effort alone, this attitude will help ease their disappointment. They will find, too, that disappointment is temporary, not long-lived. Everyone tastes defeat and disappointment sooner or later; learning what to do with it in childhood is a great protection against bitterness in maturity. Disappointment, too, can be offered up as prayer.
Activity Source: We and Our Children by Mary Reed Newland, Image Books, 1961